Archive: National Politics

One Vote Away From Limiting Freedom

It came so close to passing this time. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a sponsor of the flag desecration amendment, actually said this: "What we would be doing is sending a message to the [Supreme Court], you cannot usurp the power of the Congress of the United States." Astonishing in its arrogance, isn't it? In striking down statutes prohibiting flag burning, the judicial branch did not alter the Constitution; it lived up to its duty to ensure that no one -- most especially the federal government -- violates the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. By wasting time picking and choosing certain acts of...

By Emily Messner | June 28, 2006; 08:29 AM ET | Comments (356) | TrackBack (0)

Data Insecurity and the Potential for Mischief

Watching local TV news this evening -- something I rarely do -- I was reminded again of how fickle technology can be. We've recently learned that the personal information of 26,000 Department of Agriculture employees and contractors has been compromised. The Federal Trade Commission had some of its data nicked, too, but at least some humor could be found on that story: "Many of the people whose data were compromised were being investigated for possible fraud and identity theft." Consider also the serious data security breaches in the Department of Veteran's Affairs, college campuses and private businesses. Just because personal data is more accessible now than it was 20 years ago doesn't mean everyone's running out to commit the crime, but it does make identity theft easier, and thus more prevalent. Similarly, DRE technology makes vote fraud easier -- no stealing ballot boxes required -- just a couple minutes with...

By Emily Messner | June 22, 2006; 11:50 PM ET | Comments (75) | TrackBack (0)

Voting ABCs: Avoid Butterflies and Chads

When it comes to straightforward, reliable voting systems, I think my precinct back in Baltimore got it right: Next to each candidate's name on the ballot is an arrow with its middle missing. To vote, just draw a little line connecting the two halves of the arrow that points to your candidate. That's all there is to it. It's a paper trail with no butterflies, no hanging chads, no Windows-esque crashes, glitches or security holes. (And yes, many DRE machines run on a Windows operating system.) Each vote can be read and counted in seconds by an optical scanner; should a recount prove necessary, each ballot is available and unambiguous. Touch screens, like butterfly ballots, can be confounding to many seniors. Even though some people will be confused no matter what, the arrow design seems to be about as simple as a ballot can get. Instead of spending large sums...

By Emily Messner | June 21, 2006; 07:59 PM ET | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

A Vote for Accountability

I admire California's enthusiasm for voting. Some people find the whole ballot initiative process annoying, and perhaps they've got a point. But the process is also democratic: it helps keep the government accountable to the people, not to the access maestros who trade favors for influence over legislation and spending. California's referendum-heavy system promotes good government. Does it always succeed? I daresay no. But it empowers people with a bigger role in making the decisions that affect their lives, and gives them a strong voice to keep their elected officials on task. When it comes to safeguards on voting systems, California "took the lead." While Maryland's predominantly-Democratic state legislature brushed off the serious concerns raised about touchscreen voting, California toughened standards for voting machines, including requiring a paper trail. As the California Secretary of State's office points out, still more checks are built into California's electoral system, including a mandatory...

By Emily Messner | June 20, 2006; 10:09 PM ET | Comments (47) | TrackBack (0)

Sleepover in San Diego?

Votetrustusa.org reports that in the special election in California to replace Duke Cunningham, "volunteer pollworkers were allowed to take Diebold voting machines home as much as two weeks before the election." (I am currently waiting for a response to this report from California's elections board. I'll update the moment I have it. [Update: Secretary of State's office points to many statewide safeguards. See next entry for more details.]) Given the known security vulnerabilities and the concrete problems that fraud and/or malfunctions have caused [see pp. 9-15], how could this be allowed to happen? Most distressing? The workers wouldn't even have had to take the machines home to tamper with them -- it's easy. Newsweek's Steven Levy explains the most recent, and most serious, security flaw: It requires only a few minutes of pre-election access to a Diebold machine to open the machine and insert a PC card that, if it...

By Emily Messner | June 14, 2006; 04:15 PM ET | Comments (123) | TrackBack (0)

This Week's Debate: Voting

It's primary day in Virginia. Several years ago, as a Virginia-voting novice, I attempted to vote at the first polling place I happened across, assuming I would be assigned to the one closest to my home. They turned me away; as it happens, I actually have to walk past that polling place in order to get to my own. This is minor annoyance. A major annoyance, however, is that my precinct uses touch screen voting machines with no paper trail. So every time I vote, I get an uneasy feeling that maybe -- just maybe -- my vote won't be counted properly. The fact is, Direct Recording Electronic voting machines are by no means tamper-proof, and some of the horror stories make a voter wonder how it's possible that our legislators have not required a verifiable paper trail by now. One explanation might be the campaign donations from the top...

By Emily Messner | June 13, 2006; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (46) | TrackBack (0)

Leadership in a Majority-Minority America

Debater Anita Israel raised a number of thought-provoking questions after reading the Post story with this striking headline: Of U.S. Children Under 5, Nearly Half Are Minorities. Anita's questions would be better answered by a cross-section of informed people, so I invited her to be a guest blogger to pose some of her queries to you directly. She writes: I work for an academic institution devoted to the study of leadership, especially among women and historically underrepresented groups, so naturally I got fired up trying to imagine how leadership will evolve in this country over the course of the next two generations. Debaters, how do you think this ethnic shift will impact the United States in years to come?...

By Emily Messner | June 2, 2006; 02:50 PM ET | Comments (178) | TrackBack (1)

How Many More?

As I ponder the reports that the military covered up an intentional attack on civilians by U.S. forces (and somewhat similar allegations out of Afghanistan) I keep coming back to the same question. How many more? How many more times will find ourselves scrambling to justify the unjustifiable? How many more times will we let fear blur the line between right and wrong, humane and inhumane? How many of our own basic principles, like justice and fair play, will we toss aside? How many more times will our leaders express outrage (or simply profess to be "troubled") while quietly burying any possibility of meaningful action to punish wrongdoing or correct the flaws that allowed the offense in the first place? (Read on for more ponderables and a quick review of previous Debates relating to the questions posed above.)...

By Emily Messner | June 1, 2006; 12:17 PM ET | Comments (148) | TrackBack (0)

Life on a Pig Farm: Raising Pork and Marking Ears

This Memorial Day weekend, as we honor those who died fighting for the United States, it's worth considering also what our venerable system of government has become over the years. And so, after a pretty rough week, we find ourselves back on the subject of money and politics. The Debate has hit on the topic of earmarks briefly in the past; still, it's big, important and expensive, so seems about time to discuss it again. I won't bother getting preachy -- we all know there are some serious flaws in Congressional spending. But do we know just how bad it is? Harper's Magazine provides a stark illustration of the problem. Print it out -- it'll make great beach reading. The most important aspect of the Harper's piece deals with the fact that earmarks are inserted into bills anonymously, rendering accountability virtually impossible. Unsurprisingly, earmarks tend to show up in scandals...

By Emily Messner | May 26, 2006; 12:39 PM ET | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)

Tommy Tutone's Dark Secret
'Jenny, I Got Your Number ... From the NSA!' *

When USA Today revealed that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone logs of millions of Americans, defenders of such programs argued our intelligence agencies ought to have as much information as possible to identify terrorist threats. It just makes sense, they said. Does it? As of four years ago, "the agency does not have adequate means to filter out the millions of bits of irrelevant information it scoops up each day." Remember the Sept. 10, 2001 intercepts that weren't translated until Sept. 12? Granted, it doesn't seem likely that having those messages two days earlier would have stopped the attacks. One would also hope there have been some equipment upgrades and new hires since then that allow faster procesing of information. Still, a compelling case can be made that more raw information is not the answer. Carefully targeted data collection would ensure better use of resources and would be...

By Emily Messner | May 19, 2006; 01:44 PM ET | Comments (213)

Big Brother Is Watching ... Us???

ABC News reports that "the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources" -- this according to, well, ABC's confidential sources. According to the post at ABC's Blotter blog, sources also say the CIA leak investigation has included the examination of "phone calls and contacts" not just from ABC, but also from the New York Times and -- you guessed it -- The Washington Post. The writers of the story specifically say this is not a case of phone tapping, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter ... could provide valuable clues for leak investigators" about the identity of the reporter's confidential source. If true, this is doubleplusungood. Debaters?...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 12:43 PM ET | Comments (88)

Big Brother Is Watching ... Us???

ABC News reports that "the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources" -- this according to, well, ABC's confidential sources. According to the post at ABC's Blotter blog, sources also say the CIA leak investigation has included the examination of "phone calls and contacts" not just from ABC, but also from the New York Times and -- you guessed it -- The Washington Post. The writers of the story specifically say this is not a case of phone tapping, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter ... could provide valuable clues for leak investigators" about the identity of the reporter's confidential source. If true, this is doubleplusungood. Debaters? The Comments -- All Together Now!...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 12:43 PM ET | Comments (58)

Is Beating Bird Flu A Backward Plan?

When this story on responding to a global flu pandemic came out in the Post last Friday, I happened to be curled up in bed, thinking about how I used to love taking sick days back in high school. (I also happened to be pondering the unfortunate reality that they're not nearly as enjoyable when I'm actually sick.) Even though I got socked with some sort of ailment that, among other distasteful effects, made it highly uncomfortable to look at a computer screen -- particularly distressing for a blogger -- I managed to stay coherent enough to read the copy of the Post delivered to my door each morning. Coherent enough, in fact, to read the aforementioned story and conclude that perhaps the U.S. response plan isn't as well-thought-out as it could be. The first phase wisely calls for vaccinating healthcare workers. Brand new blog Wrapper's Rap argues taking it...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 07:56 AM ET | Comments (11)

It's All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

An analysis by the Post's Jeffrey H. Birnbaum explores "A Growing Wariness About Money in Politics." In the story, an expert is quoted as saying "that every 10 years or so there is an episode" of serious handwringing over the corrupting influence of lobbying on politicians. Seems to me these periods happen more like every 12 to 16 years, and coincide rather neatly with midterm elections. Going back to the early 1960s, ethics take center stage every few midterms. 1962 -- At President Kennedy's urging, Congress enacts P.L. 87-849 in October to get rid of redundancies and inconsistencies among existing governmental ethics laws. (See Title 18, Chapter 11 of the U.S. Code.) 1978 -- In the wake of Watergate, Congress passes the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. 1994 -- Newt Gingrich leads his Republican revolution, relying heavily on accusations that Democrats had been corrupted by four decades in the...

By Emily Messner | May 8, 2006; 10:59 AM ET | Comments (59)

Care About the Consumer? You're Not Alone

Pop Quiz! If you write a $20 check -- for, say, groceries -- and it bounces: A) Your bank is likely to charge you a fee of around $30 B) The store will probably charge you $25 or so C) A private debt collector may masquerade as the District Attorney's office, threaten you with criminal prosecution, and demand you pay fees well in excess of what state law allows D) The District Attorney could make a $15 to $30 profit off your mistake E) All of the above If you chose E, all of the above, you might already be aware of a deceptive debt collection tactic known as "check diversion". Check diversion works like this: A private collection agency makes a deal with a local prosecutor (such as a district attorney) to use his name and authority to collect on bad checks. The company then obtains records of returned...

By Emily Messner | May 3, 2006; 07:42 AM ET | Comments (227)

Moussaoui: Dead or Alive?

I admit I was surprised when Debater Will asked, "what is the controversy?" when it comes to punishing terrorists. Debater D. responded to yesterday's post in no uncertain terms: There's nothing murky about it, he said -- terrorists should definitely be punished. Thanks for clearing that up, D. Okay, obviously we're not debating whether terrorists should be punished or simply given a lollypop and sent on their way. The question this week is how they should be punished and under what judicial framework should they be tried. Will, for his part, answered his own question by opining that Zacharias Moussaoui should be put in prison for life. That is indeed the controversy. Unlike Will, many Americans believe Moussaoui should pay the ultimate price for his involvement in the 9/11 plot -- and for withholding potentially life-saving information from the FBI. As of this writing, a Wall Street Journal online poll...

By Emily Messner | April 11, 2006; 05:15 AM ET | Comments (108)

Fuel Economy Standards and the Free Market

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards law includes a method to calculate the average fuel economy of a manufacturer. Fuel economy figures, however, are not necessarily reliable, given that the EPA admits it tends to overestimate gas mileage. Over at the Spread Truth Liberally blog, John Nicosia is pleased at least that the larger light trucks, like the Hummer, will no longer be exempt from CAFE standards. (That said, near as I can tell, the gas guzzler tax still only applies to cars.) The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Sam Kazman says forget standards -- let the market solve! Kazman argues that not only are CAFE standards ineffective, they're also potentially deadly and counterproductive. He says that environmentalists, who campaign for people to drive less, should not support fuel economy rules that will make driving cheaper, thus encouraging even more driving. But there's only so much driving a person needs to...

By Emily Messner | April 6, 2006; 09:04 AM ET | Comments (51)

Are We Serious About Ending Our Addiction?

When Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced the new fuel efficiency standards for light trucks -- the category that includes minivans and SUVs -- some editorial pages lambasted the government for not going far enough. The Peoria Journal Star editorial board noted that the minimum required efficiency now stands at 17.5 miles per gallon, when averaged across the light trucks category. By 2011, that requirement will be up to 24 mpg. The Journal Star's exasperated response? "So, after a quarter-century of trying to wean ourselves off oil, all we will have been able to eke out is a 6.5 mpg increase for trucks." Blogger Gregory Scoblete isn't surprised in the least by the meager move. "I guess we're not really serious about 'ending our addiction' to oil." If we want to get serious, says the Peoria editorial, raising standards by five percent a year until 2010 could result in a savings...

By Emily Messner | April 5, 2006; 03:08 PM ET | Comments (13)

Born in the U.S.A. (Part II)

The And Rightly So blog commends an op-ed by Colorado's Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo claims that once a baby is born on U.S. soil to an illegal immigrant, the baby's 'entire family gets to cut in line.' Maybe in twenty-some years they will, but not any time soon. If you've ever seen the process for applying for permanent residency and then citizenship, you'll know that it would be exceedingly difficult for a baby to sponsor anyone -- much less her entire family. We're talking about all kinds of forms, letters attesting to the applicant's legitimacy, huge amounts of necessary documentation, face-to-face interviews with immigration officials.* If the baby had her last three years of tax returns, that might make it easier. But try explaining the IRS 1040 form to an infant -- I would bet huge amounts of money (which I don't actually have) that you wouldn't get very far....

By Emily Messner | March 30, 2006; 12:25 PM ET | Comments (66)

Born in the U.S.A. (Part I)

As I was researching this broad topic for The Debate, I found a fair bit of opposition to the policy of bestowing citizenship on anyone born on U.S. soil. The automatic citizenship idea comes from a clause in the 14th amendment that reads: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. P.A. Madison writes that "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" requires that United States have complete jurisdiction over parents of baby at time of birth in order for that baby to be a citizen. If the U.S. government cannot "compel a child's parents to Jury Duty," for example, "then the U.S. does not have the total, complete jurisdiction demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment to make their child a citizen of the United States by birth. How could it possibly...

By Emily Messner | March 30, 2006; 09:55 AM ET | Comments (71)

Immigrants' Attitudes on Immigration

At the massive pro-immigrant rallies across the United States over the weekend, native-born citizens participated, as undoubtedly did some illegal immigrants. And, in spite of what the rhetoric of illegal immigrants' staunchest opponents might lead us to believe, many of the protesters were legal immigrants who don't believe illegal immigration is inherently unfair. A poll of legal immigrants* conducted over the last month found 60 percent find the tone of the current immigration debate to be alarming; more than two-thirds say anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise. Support for a temporary worker program and allowing illegal immigrants to apply for legal status if they pay a fine and learn English clocked in at 68 percent. Four out of five of the legal immigrants surveyed also expressed the belief that illegal immigrants take jobs shunned by Americans. The PoliWatch News blog points to a different poll concluding that immigrant voters in...

By Emily Messner | March 29, 2006; 12:53 PM ET | Comments (311)

Senate Delays and Presidential Politics

Senators agreed yesterday to put off the floor debate regarding the Judiciary Committee's bill on comprehensive immigration reform. Debate is now set to begin late Wednesday or Thursday; in the meantime, senators will attempt to reach compromises behind the scenes on some of the more controversial pieces of the bill, including guest worker provisions. How big a role does presidential politics play in all this? That aspect of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's immigration legislation might have been overemphasized, especially where Frist's proposal is depicted as a competitor to the Judiciary Committee bill. If Frist did decide to treat his bill as a competitor to the one agreed upon by most members of the Judiciary Committee on Monday, he would be violating the understanding he has with them -- that his bill would be replaced (through an amendment) with the more comprehensive committee legislation when it was sent to the...

By Emily Messner | March 29, 2006; 09:10 AM ET | Comments (40)

Patriotic Assimilation (Go Patriots!)

We left off the last post discussing a paper by Donald Huddle. I found myself quite confused when Huddle claimed that Karl Zinsmeister supports open borders. I can only assume this is the same Karl Zinsmeister who wrote in 2000 of "an over-heavy saturation with poorly educated peasants from Mexico and other Third World countries" causing "unwanted poverty, crime, social dysfunction, educational mediocrity, economic drags, and ethnic division." That doesn't strike me as the outlook of someone who desires an open-border policy. Zinsmeister argues for an increase in the number of skilled immigrants possessing "desirable occupational capabilities," and a decrease in the number of immigrants let into the country simply because they're related to U.S. citizens. While pointing out that America's capacity to absorb immigrants is not unlimited, he believes that the capacity can be greatly increased through successful assimilation. Essentially, he's describing a concept dubbed "patriotic assimilation". The conservative...

By Emily Messner | March 27, 2006; 04:47 PM ET | Comments (46)

Guest Workers: Importing Poverty?

Happy Monday to you all -- especially happy, that is, because our local dream team is on its way to the Final Four! I've been holding this in for the last couple weeks, but now it's definitely time to let loose: GO MASON!!! Ahem. With that out of my system (for the moment), we'll pick up where we left off Friday afternoon, on the subject of guest workers. Econo-columnist Robert Samuelson opposes a guest worker program because "we'd be importing poverty." He notes that the number of Hispanics in poverty in the United States has increased 162 percent since 1980. Just to keep that number in perspective, though, the total Hispanic population in the United States has seen an overall increase of 177 percent since 1980, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In Sunday's Washington Post, Tamar Jacoby agrees that a temporary worker program won't work because it lacks any...

By Emily Messner | March 27, 2006; 04:57 AM ET | Comments (175)

Immigration: Wedge Issue, Not a Wage Issue

Debater Derek hit the nail on the head on Tuesday with this comment: "Given that the Karlrovian wedge issue of the last election was gay marriage, I wonder whether it will be illegal immigration this election?" It seemed like a good possibility; after reading today's front-page story in the Post, it seems all but certain that this will indeed be the "wedge issue." As Derek notes, it could be especially dangerous to the Democrats, pitting those who want compassion and eventual integration for illegal immigrants in the United States against the unions (and many others) who fear they'll lose jobs to foreigners willing to do the job for lower pay. Indeed, Debater Arminda alluded to how little the $5.15 an hour really is -- and when workers are being paid under the table, employers can flout minimum wage laws, too. That said, Debater Mike Brooks notes that the construction-type jobs...

By Emily Messner | March 24, 2006; 04:31 PM ET | Comments (119)

Good Idea/Bad Idea: Drafting Non-Citizens

Male U.S. permanent residents, ages 18-26, are required to register for Selective Service. Not registering can wreck their chances of ever attaining citizenship. The thinking behind this policy is that the privilege of living in the United States comes with an obligation (for young men) to defend the country if the need arises. Residents with non-immigrant status, like those here on student visas, are exempted from the requirement. Other exemptions do exist. Some countries have agreements or treaties with the United States relieving their citizens of military service obligations, but a resident requesting not to serve based on such a treaty "can never become a U.S. citizen, and may have trouble reentering the U.S. if he leaves." This seems a little harsh -- assuming the no-citizenship penalty isn't specified in the bilateral agreement -- and the Supreme Court has said as much. Illegal immigrants are required to register for Selective...

By Emily Messner | March 23, 2006; 10:50 AM ET | Comments (112)

Tree Huggers, Tax Cheaters and Landmine Lovers

Lots of thoughtful discussion on the last post -- many well-reasoned arguments for and against constructing a border wall. I love it! For the record, I also love tree huggers, and Debater murracito makes an excellent tree-hugging point that had not occurred to me: the environmental consequences of building such an enormous wall could be devastating. Among other possible problems, just think of the construction runoff that would end up in the Rio Grande. Even if you don't give a patoot about the environment, remember that the river is also used for recreation. Would a wall severely limit those activities, or cut them off entirely? A quick question for Debater Will, who asserts that "57% [of Mexicans] felt they had the right to enter the United States without United States permission." Could you share your source on that, por favor? We get this analogy from Debater DC Dude, explaining why...

By Emily Messner | March 22, 2006; 04:51 PM ET | Comments (101)

Should We Build a Wall at the Border?

When Pat Buchanan proposed erecting a wall along the border with Mexico during his 1996 presidential run, condemnation of the idea came from far and wide. But today -- perhaps due in part to the immigration surge in 1999 and 2000 -- debate rages over a whether to build some sort of imposing physical barrier along the entire 2,000-mile southern border. Columnist Robert Samuelson says we should go ahead and put up a wall. He isn't happy about advocating this, he says, but he sees no other way to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the border to find work in the United States. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Professor Jan C. Ting agrees. A border fence that "can't be walked around" would prevent those illegal border crossings, and would save money in the long run by reversing the trend toward ever-increasing personnel and technology to patrol the border....

By Emily Messner | March 22, 2006; 11:11 AM ET | Comments (149)

The Paranoid Fringe of the Immigration Debate

In the debate over immigration, perfectly reasonable arguments can be made in support of many different points of view. Even still, unreasonable arguments abound, generally championed by fringe groups consisting of those who are either racist, paranoid or both. So let's get the wacky fringe out of the way before we go any further. We can have a good laugh (or cry) about the fact that people really believe this stuff, and then we'll stick to arguments of merit for the rest of the week, rather than digressing into the absurd. The variety of absurdity to which I refer can be found at certain Web sites frequented by those worried about "anti-White legislation" and fretting that there won't be "enough strong white people with spines left to win a CWII." (That's "Civil War II" -- which apparently will be the result of immigration -- for those not familiar with the...

By Emily Messner | March 20, 2006; 01:51 PM ET | Comments (108)

 

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